Don’t let the action-packed trailer lead you astray; THE ROAD is true to the book. All the details of Cormac McCarthy’s barren, burnt out landscape are fully realized by director John Hillcoat (THE PROPOSITION), who you can tell took great pains to do right by the author. Instead of creating a street of abandoned, weather-beaten houses in a studio, for example, or hiring a big team of CGI experts to imagine what a decaying, post-apocalyptic shipyard would look like, Hillcoat and his crew actually sought out those environments, mainly in post-Katrina New Orleans.
In fact, every member of the relatively small production seems to have been totally committed to the project. In interviews, Viggo Mortenson fingers an obviously well-read and copiously post-it noted copy of the book. Mortenson, who slept in his character’s filthy clothes off-set and starved himself for the role delivers an absolutely brilliant performance. He’s perfect for the part, even echoing Tarkovsky’s ANDREI RUBLYOV. There are moments in the film when he could have taken it over the top, but he’s so perfectly restrained, so realistic that midway through the film you start to feel as if you’re part of his world. Equal credit goes to Kodi Smit-McPhee, who plays The Boy. The chemistry between the two actors gives their on-camera relationship all the understated nuances of a real father and son.
When it was first announced that “The Road” was going to be made in to a movie, I just assumed that Hollywood would get in the way and prepared myself for disappointment. But the film captures everything about the book that grips me each time I read it, like the long, silent gaps between the short bursts of action and the pervading tone of fear, desperation and hopelessness. McCarthy manages to make small events, like discovering an overlooked jar of preserved peppers in an abandoned house into exhilarating plot points. And, of course, what happens in the basement of the old colonial remains the single, scariest scene I’ve ever read in a book. And these things, the moments big and small, aren’t lost in the move from page to screen. The struggle to preserve one’s humanity, the instinct to live on and the realization that suicide might be the best method of survival, that’s all there. But it’s the unrelenting and unspoken reality of this world, something that’s really more a feeling you get from the book that I was afraid Hillcoat would be unable to capture. He does, however, THE ROAD is more than a good copy of a great book; It has the words of Cormac McCarthy but it has a fire all its own.